Director: William Monahan
Starring: Colin Farrell, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone
Having just been released after serving three years in Pentonville prison as a result of an “altercation,” Mitchell (Farrell) is determined to leave his gangster past behind him and go straight. A chance encounter results in an invitation to work as a part-time handyman, part-time bodyguard for the reclusive movie star Charlotte (Knightley) who hides away from the paparazzi in her Holland Park mansion. However, cutting ones ties with the underworld is easier said than done (you can’t help but hear Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III crying “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in”) and when prominent gangster Mr. Gant (Winstone) gets it in his mind that Mitchel would be a useful person to have around he sets about trying to ‘persuade’ him to accept the job.
While most people associate the gangster movie with Hollywood and the USA, Great Britain has an outstanding tradition in the gangster genre with the likes of Get Carter, The Long Good Friday, Sexy Beast and even Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. With London Boulevard, first time director William Monahan is definitely hooking into that tradition, it has that real ‘geezer’ quality to it, but it’s too thinly drawn to reach the lofty standard of the aforementioned titles. That said, Monahan, who has experience with the gangster genre having won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Departed, delivers a competent directorial debut and a pretty solid gangster film.
Farrell is strong as a man who is trapped by his past, not only in the sense that he struggles to break free from the underworld ties of his pre-Pentonville life, but also by his own violent past, which betrays itself even in those moments when we can see his motives are noble. Farrell succeeds in making you feel for this character who just wants out.
Unfortunately, the other main characters lack a bit of depth. Keira Knightley’s Charlotte initially makes for an intriguing character as this young, beautiful, Howard Hughes-esque shut in. But despite the revelations of how she got to this point, and an all too predictable romantic sub-plot, her character never really progresses to become anything more than she was when we first met her. Ray Winstone, one of those great actors whose presence in a supporting role can instantly elevate a film, is in this case severely underutilised, with Gant being not much more than a Big Bad Wolf who huffs and puffs his way through the film.
If you are a fan of the gangster genre, you will find enough in London Boulevard to satisfy you, even if it does miss some opportunities.
Rating – ★★★
Review by Duncan McLean